This week marked the fourth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein and the liberation of Iraq. On Monday, tens of thousands of Iraqis turned out to celebrate which, according to one U.S. official, was proof that "Iraq, four years on, is now a place where people can freely gather and express their opinions." A U.S. military spokesperson proclaimed that Iraqis "could not have done this four years ago."
That’s the good news. The bad news is the Iraqis were also protesting the continued U.S. military occupation of their country. Crowds chanted, "No, no to America. Yes, yes to freedom," and "Occupiers should leave Iraq." According to one Shi’ite, "We do not want their liberation and their [U.S. military] presence. We tell them to get out of our land." A Shi’ite politician described the protests as a "call for liberation." And a Sunni politician claimed, "This demonstration is a friendly message to unite Iraqis on one common issue, and that is end of occupation." So while thankful to be free of Saddam’s brutal tyranny, Iraqis were also saying what they’ve been saying with increasing volume for the last four years: Yankee, go home.
Shortly after the fall of Baghdad, one Iraqi said, "We thank the Americans for getting rid of Saddam’s regime, but now Iraq must be run by Iraqis." The United States should have listened, because subsequent polls have consistently supported such sentiment:
And the United States has been presented with ample opportunities to declare victory and go home:
But instead of taking the opportunity to leave, the United States continues to linger in Iraq with the Bush administration recently increasing troop levels by more than 20,000 soldiers. But a "surge" is not the answer. A larger force and a longer U.S. military presence reinforces widespread fears of an "infidel" war against Islam, which creates greater incentives for more Iraqis to join the ranks of the insurgency and more Muslims around the world to side with the radicals.
Indeed, Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is using the U.S. military occupation as a rallying cry. In a recently issued statement, Sadr said, "You the Iraqi army and police forces don’t walk alongside the occupiers, because they are your archenemy" and "God has ordered you to be patient in front of your enemy, and to unify your efforts against them not against the sons of Iraq." Incredibly, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman (now considered an Independent, but previously one of the Democrats leading the headlong rush to war against Iraq) claims that Sadr is "acknowledging that the surge is working" because he is arguing against sectarian violence. Clearly, Lieberman has taken logic lessons from the Bush administration, which has at various times described increased violence in Iraq as an indication of progress.
But Sadr and the insurgency (which, according to Vice President Cheney, was in its last throes in May 2005) are not threats to U.S. security. The only reason for maintaining a U.S. military presence in Iraq would be if that country were a safe haven for al-Qaeda, which it was not under Saddam Hussein’s rule and is not now. Since there was no need to invade Iraq in the first place, it is long past time to acknowledge that it is in the United States’ strategic interests to exit Iraq. Yet, according to President Bush, if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq,
"The enemy that had done us harm would be embolden[ed]. They would have seen the mighty United States of America retreat before the job was done, which would enable them to better recruit. They have made it clear they, being people like Osama bin Laden or Zawahiri have made it clear they want to drive us from Iraq to establish safe haven in order to launch further attacks. In my judgment, defeat leaving before the job was done, which I would call defeat would make this United States of America at risk to further attack."
What the president has never understood is that invading Iraq to rid the world of a phantom menace is what has emboldened the enemy who did us harm on 9/11. The unnecessary U.S. military presence in Iraq has enabled them to better recruit and spawned a reverse franchise effect resulting in the Madrid and London terrorist bombings. And the longer we stay in Iraq, the more we risk the threat of terrorism on U.S. soil by giving Muslims around the world more reasons to hate America. It is paradoxical, but leaving Iraq is actually a prerequisite to, if not victory, at least avoiding defeat.
But what about the president’s claim that Iraq will become a safe haven for al-Qaeda if the U.S. withdraws? Unlike the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, it seems highly unlikely that Iraqis would welcome bin Laden and company with open arms. According to a September 2006 poll, 94 percent of Iraqis have an unfavorable view of al-Qaeda. As one would expect, nearly 100 percent of Iraq’s Shi’ite Arabs and Sunni Kurds have an unfavorable view of the Sunni Arab radical movement. But the vast majority of Sunni Arabs in Iraq nearly 80 percent also have an unfavorable view of al-Qaeda. Obviously, President Bush is true to his word that he doesn’t "pay attention to polls."